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'High rate' of missing persons reports prompts creation of special hub in Manitoba

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Manitoba is planning to create an integrated missing persons response unit, sharing information between police agencies, Child and Family Services (CFS), and Indigenous advocates when someone goes missing.

There were more than 9,300 missing person reports in Winnipeg alone last year, a number that doesn't include the roughly 3,500 missing persons investigations launched by the RCMP.

"Manitoba has seen, sadly, consistently high rates of missing persons over the past number of years, especially among young girls," said Manitoba's Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen during the provincial announcement on Monday.

Goertzen said to improve responses when a person goes missing, the province is putting $2.1 million from the 2023 budget to create a Manitoba Integrated Missing Persons Response unit.

"This investment will require the coordination of police agencies, CFS, support services and community services providers to assist in identifying and managing chronic missing persons in a responsive coordinated and data-based way," he said.

The province said with this new response, the Winnipeg Police Service's specialized missing persons coordinators will be the centralized intake for the province.

Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth called it a 'win-win.'

"By having that coordinated response, it allows us to do a quick risk assessment on incoming files, it allows us to share information quickly between our partners," he said.

"It allows us to quickly assess that and assign resources so that we can start timely investigations and we can also look for an opportunity to more effectively liaison with the families."

Assistant Commissioner Rob Hill, a commanding officer with the Manitoba RCMP, said on average Mounties get 10 missing person reports per day.

"Many of these reports involve youth who live in smaller cities or remote communities," he said, adding 53 per cent of all missing persons in 2022 originated in northern detachments.

"It is not uncommon for these missing youths to be drawn or lured to larger city centres like Winnipeg or Brandon. Once in these larger centres they can become vulnerable to exploitation, or victimized by people who have no care for their well-being."

He said this new response unit will allow for a better information exchange which will not just be limited to police agencies, but will include CFS and Indigenous advocacy groups.

Heidi Spence, director of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak MMIWG liaison unit, said it will have an impact on families of missing people as well.

"It's going to help with the resources and better communication to be able to give answers to the families and the loved ones of our women, girls and 2SLGBTQ people that are missing in the province," she said.

Goertzen said more consultation is required to determine the make-up of the team. The province did not say when the unit will begin running. 

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